Elder Fu Xianwei from Shanghai is the chair of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), the body that oversees registered Protestant churches in China. The Christian Post met with Elder Fu and his translator, the Rev. Dr. Lin Manhong, dean of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, Sunday evening in New York City to discuss the upcoming China Bible exhibition, mass evangelism in China, the TSPM relationship with the Billy Graham family, and the body’s view of house churches.
CP: Why are you in New York? What is the purpose of your U.S. visit?
Fu: We are [here] upon the invitation of BGEA, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Since 1988, BGEA has developed good relationship with us. There are two wishes that we’d like to accomplish through our visit with the BGEA. Rev. Billy Graham cares much about the churches in China and he has a good support to our ministries. This is especially because Mrs. Ruth Graham was born in China and because of her connection Rev. Billy Graham has a good heart for the churches in China.
So Rev. Billy Graham is 92 years old so at this senior age and according to Chinese tradition it is very important for us to pay a visit to show our respect to him. We also want to take this opportunity to have a better understanding of their organization and also their ministries carried forward by Samaritan’s Purse. We would like to explore the possibilities to have further cooperation based upon the principles of mutual respect and understanding.
The second task that we would like to accomplish during our visit is we would like to have some support from our partner churches to the Bible Ministry Exhibition, which is going to be held in September this year.
We had a very good discussion regarding the Bible Ministry Exhibition with the BGEA. And today the purpose that brought us here is to meet the general secretary/CEO of the WEA (World Evangelical Alliance) and we hope to get some support from them too.
So we realized during our trip that through mutual sharing of our ministries through conversations, our friendship and fellowship have been deepened and that would be good to our future cooperation in our ministries.
And we also want to bring a message to our partner churches in the United States that the churches in China uphold a principle of three-self and meanwhile we would like to have more cooperation with our partner churches based upon the principle of mutual respect.
CP: How will this year’s Bible exhibit be different than the one in 2006?
Fu: The 2006 Bible Exhibition, we had accomplished much with that because afterwards people saw the exhibition and got to know a lot more about our work, our ministries in China. And those people who saw the exhibition really had a better understanding of how Christians in China love the Bible and how Christians nurture their spiritual faith through reading the Bible.
So through the Bible Exhibition in ’06 people got to know that there is freedom in China to print and publish the Bible. And annually we publish 3.5 to 4 million copies of the Bible. So this would correct people’s perspective that in China there are no Bibles or no freedom of printing Bibles.
So in fact, we can say that in the exhibition in 2006 we show a nice picture of our work to people so people get the correct understanding of our ministries.
But the U.S. is a big country and last time we only did it in a few cities. This time we would like to go to different cities so more people can see our Bible ministries. So with the Bible Exhibition we hope in fact that it can promote the friendship between the churches in China and U.S., and also the friendship between the Chinese people and Americans.
CP: Can you speak about the growth of the registered Church in China? How fast are the churches under the TSPM growing?
Fu: So according to the incomplete statistics last year there are over 23 million Protestant Christians. So this figure not just includes registered Christians, but also the non-registered Christians. So now we have over 57,000 churches in China. Every year we also build a lot of new churches. We have in fact published over 55 million copies of the Bible. We’ll just mention that annually we print 3.5 to 4 million copies Bibles, so we can say whoever wants to get Bible in China can find Bibles.
United Bible Society provides subsidies for our printing paper so we can support those who cannot afford a Bible and they can still get a free Bible.
We have 21 seminaries and Bible schools in China. So there are all together over 1,800 seminary students studying at theological schools. So there have been 12,000 seminary graduates serving at different churches. But the number of our pastors and church workers cannot meet the need of the growth of Christians.
CP: What are some of the challenges that the TSPM faces given its rapid growth?
Fu: In fact, we have many challenges and one of that is we cannot train enough people to work for the church. So in fact apart from training full-time pastors we also train a lot of lay leaders to take care of our ministries.
We only have about 3,700 ordained pastors. And we only have 5,000 ordained elders serving at the churches. And about 25,000 non-ordained preachers. But we have 150,000 lay leaders so they are the ones that do evangelism in China. Our challenges come from the need of our Christians and their expectations are higher and higher.
We have more and more educated people joining the church. So they will have a different need in terms of pastoral care and they will ask different questions. They have more issues that they have to deal with and find answers to so this is a challenge for our church workers.
And then we also need to get more involved in social services. This is an expectation raised from society. So in fact social service will promote social stability and social harmony. So many people hope the church will have a part in social service. And just now we had meeting with the general secretary of WEA and we also talked about the importance of social services. So we need to do more studies and find more resources to do social services.
CP: How is the TSPM’s relationship with American Christian leaders, such as Franklin Graham and Luis Palau?
Fu: Franklin Graham visited China in 2008 – that was his first visit. Since then he has visited China several times and we invited him to preach at different churches in China. Luis Palau was in China too and he preached in Shanghai at our invitation.
We have some cooperation with Samaritan’s Purse in terms of social services. So we are in the process of talking about cooperation with the BGEA regarding training program. We have in fact established long-term relationship or friendship with the churches in the United States. For instance, we have connections with mainline churches in the United States, the Episcopal Church, Lutheran Church, the Baptist Church, so forth. Almost all mainline churches. Also we have connections with the American Bible Society as well as for instance, the World Evangelical Alliance.
CP: What do you think about the idea of mass evangelism in China?
Fu: Well in fact we do that too. Especially around Chinese New Year’s, we have two or three days of mass evangelism, we call it revival meetings. And also we do that during the summer. So in fact our Christians are quite familiar with mass evangelism, or we can say revival meetings or crusades.
So in fact our Christians welcome this very much, to their understanding of what mass evangelism is that they can have church meetings for longer periods of time and listen to more messages. They really enjoy it.
I think this is one of the reasons that contribute to the growth of the churches in China.
CP: How many people are you talking about when you say revival meetings?
Fu: Well it depends in fact on the size of the churches, from 1,000 to 8,000. So 4,000 to 5,000 is normal.
CP: Is there diversity among TSPM churches, or do they have the same preaching style and program?
Fu: Well our traditional backgrounds are different. So probably the worship style of the coastal area may be different than inland China. Some churches will take more active approach and some churches are more traditional. Some carry more denominational features.
CP: How are the TSPM churches funded?
Fu: Christian member offerings.
CP: How does a Chinese Christian join a TSPM church?
Fu: So up to six month training. We require that they attend inquiry class for six months. So in fact every day two hours in the evening. So a pastor will call them to gather and teach them the basic understandings of the Bible. So in fact when they are up to five months in training they will take some exams. So the pastor thinks he or she is ok, this person can request to be baptized. Then after that he becomes a full member of that church.
CP: What is the TSPM’s view on house churches?
Fu: So in fact in China there is not such a concept as house church. So in fact Christians in China have this tradition that they like to meet in people’s homes during the weekends or evenings to share and chat. So in fact we support this kind of form of worshipping and we also provide them learning materials and Bibles. Some of those Christians also go to our churches on Sunday and also some of them have good relationship with our churches and pastors.